At C.B. 3, some concern over mixing ball and alcohol

By Lesley Sussman

It was a tough night for East Village barflies on Tues., Sept. 27, as Community Board 3 — at a meeting nearly cancelled due to overcrowding — voted nearly unanimously to deny Heathers its liquor license renewal application because of noise complaints from neighbors.

The vote is only advisory and the State Liquor Authority will review the application at a later date to make a final decision.

On the other hand, the full board reluctantly approved an application by Ark Rest-aurants Corporation to operate a cafe restaurant serving food and alcohol in the 55,000-square-foot Basketball City sports facility slated for construction at Pier 36 at 299 South St.

Board members approved the application with various stipulations, including provisions that the corporation work with the Lower East Side Hiring Network to ensure that local residents get first shot at jobs there, and that the complex’s operators meet with residents in nearby Gouverneur Gardens, a middle-income co-op development, to review their plans.

While bars, booze and basketball seemed to dominate most of the meeting, it was the overcrowded makeshift meeting room at the Ukrainian Museum that generated the most grumbling from board members and the nearly 200 residents who packed the 6:30 p.m. meeting. Many people couldn’t get seats and found themselves mulling around the museum’s lobby or standing on the staircase in order to listen to the proceedings.

The museum was selected as a meeting location because C.B. 3 can no longer afford to pay the fee for security services requested by P.S. 20, 166 Essex St., where the board usually holds its meetings.

“The school won’t waive the security fee, which is expensive,” Susan Stetzer, C.B. 3 district manager, told the board. “It’s really hard for us to find spaces to meet.”

In an earlier memo on the C.B. 3 Web site, Stetzer said that the board would be meeting at new locations every month “as the Department of Education will no longer allow C.B.s to use schools free or allow the Community Education Council to sponsor meetings.”

Dominick Pisciotta, C.B. 3 chairperson, said he, too, was unhappy about the crowded conditions in the museum’s art gallery where chairs were set up for the meeting.

“We can only take what we can get,” he said. “I wish the city would recognize that the community boards are integral to the community and help us do our job — especially the Board of Education. They should understand we’re working for the community and that we shouldn’t be charged for that.”

David McWater, former C.B. 3 chairperson, who found himself having to stand through much of the meeting, called the situation “ridiculous.” He angrily told Pisciotta that the meeting should be cancelled because various zoning codes were being violated.

“If the Fire Department walks in right now they’re going to clear the building,” McWater said. “Why didn’t we look at the room before it was booked?”

The overflow meeting was packed by supporters and opponents of Basketball City and members of the E. 13th St. Residents Association, who lined up to speak out about noisy conditions at Heathers, at 506 W. 13th St., and to accuse the popular watering hole of repeatedly violating numerous stipulations of its September 2009 liquor license renewal.

Several employees of the bar stood up to defend the establishment, describing it as a “responsible and respectful” member of the community. One employee told board members that owner Heather Millstone had even gone as far as to hire additional staff solely to direct late-night patrons who step outside to smoke to move off the residential block and go to the corner of Avenue A.

“She has made continuous efforts to address the noise concerns,” said Diane Stewart after the meeting. “Yet people and the community board don’t want to give her the right to operate a bar.”

While dozens of youngsters showed up at the meeting carrying placards in support of Basketball City, several opponents of the sports facility who spoke said that court fees that would be charged there were unaffordable to low-income youth in the surrounding housing projects.

Frank Alameda, founder of East Side Sports NYC, who has been running free basketball programs for low-income youngsters for the past 15 years, said fees to play in a league would range as high as $250 per child. He further added that nearby schools and local nonprofit organizations had not even been contacted by Basketball City operator Bruce Radler.

“Why should C.B. 3 support a liquor license for a business that doesn’t support the community?” he said.

It wasn’t Heathers but the Ark Rest-aurants Corporation’s liquor license application that drew the most heated responses of the evening from board members. Before C.B. 3 reluctantly voted its approval of the license application, several members spoke out sharply against granting the sports facility such a license.

C.B. 3 Secretary Rickie Leung, who is also a member of the nearby Cherry St. Tenants Association, said, “We’d rather have a juice bar here, not a liquor bar.” He noted that the facility was located close to F.D.R. Drive and said he worried that parents waiting for their kids to finish playing basketball would have one too many and drive home while intoxicated.

Board member Rabbi Y.S. Ginzberg also questioned the wisdom of serving alcohol at a facility where youth will be present.

“Ark is a well-known corporation, but to have a liquor license in a facility where boys are playing frightens me,” he said. “Will parents be sitting there getting drunk?”

Speaking out in support of the application was McWater, who told the board that to vote against the measure was “meaningless.”

“This is a business that’s been around 50 years and runs hundreds of stores,” he said. “The S.L.A. is going to approve their license. Let’s think about our own credibility. Voting no on this would be ridiculous.”

Also in favor of the application was Pisciotta, who described the Ark Basketball City Corporation as a “respectful entity.”

In other matters, the full board postponed its vote on changing side-street parking regulations on Forsyth St. between Canal and Division Sts. until there is a full committee meeting on the issue.

Chinese vendors who operate on the sidewalk adjacent to the Manhattan Bridge retaining wall have been loading and unloading goods at night, preventing the Department of Sanitation from doing street cleaning.

A spokeswoman from nearby St. Barbara Greek Orthodox Church, 27 Forsyth St., said, “We demand to be part of any discussion on new parking regulations. Right now we feel that we’ve been left out of the loop.”

The board also heard from Bob Contant, co-owner of St. Mark’s Bookshop, who said he was at the meeting “seeking support from the community” to help keep his bookstore open.

C.B. 3 has already sent a letter to The Cooper Union, which is the landlord of the property, urging the school to help the store remain “economically viable at its present location.” Contant said he is hoping that Cooper Union will reduce the store’s rent by $5,000 a month, to $15,000.